Nearly every week (save for a few weeks in July and August), I take the bus and metro to a refugee center near Molenbeek to write songs from the written and spoken words of immigrants in search of a better life.
Even though I volunteer, I think of this work as my once a weekday job. I was texting with my dad a couple of weeks ago and wrote to him, Imagine if people were paid to do this work?
A few years ago, I spent a lot of time and energy to create a startup business for songwriting. While I learned a great deal from the process, I find that the songs I create for more karmic than financial remuneration brings just as much, if not more, joy and fulfillment.
The songs I write as the refugee center begin with written words and phrases. This is different than much of the songwriting I have done, where I type the spoken words of a story as they are born into sound and then commence constructing verses and a chorus from there.
Thus far, I have only been able to catch bits and pieces of the lived experiences of the refugees. Many are reticent to share their story. They may be there to escape persecution and are wary to risk being discovered. Others have shared their stories but not been comfortable when I have asked if I could write their words down.
Oh no, one person told me. I share the story just with you.
I honor these requests, of course, yet I hope for a time when I may have gained enough trust to write music from these stories. I wish to do this in part because I have experienced firsthand the transformative and also healing effects of moving through the creative process of shaping a story into a song. I also have found that sharing these songs builds empathy and understanding, and I believe that the world is in desperate need of both right now.
Even the snippits of story are powerful. The story of a man who was separated from his sister for 11 years before being reunited just a month ago at the refugee center here in Brussels.
A recent chorus, which has become one of my favorites from the past year, came into being first Arabic, then French, and finally to English, creating the of the powerful role of a word for spreading hope and love to the world:
I am a word of hope and love,
I bring honor to the world,
I will push the darkness away,
Can I come to your house and stay?
I am a word.
Each week, I witness darkness and light, sadness and hope, fear and courage. I witness the sharing of culture, language, and kinship.
Are there moments when I wonder if anyone would notice if I was not there? Of course, but then someone will ask me where I was during July and August and tell me I was missed. And truly, I don’t spend my time guiding songs into the world in order to “get credit” or get rich. I do it because I believe that it is important. I do it because I believe it is my path to follow. Maybe, I am one of a few people who offer a safe and consistent space for people walking a very difficult path, one with different challenges than I have worked to overcome in my own life. I do it because a world with more music is one where I would like to be.